Transcript of press conference

Beijing, China

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

14 May 2012

BOB CARR: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm happy to talk to you at the end of a day of talks, that I enjoyed, with Chinese leaders. General Wei of the PLA; the Foreign Minister, Yang; and Minister Wang, of the Chinese Communist Party International Division.

As you'd expect, we started all our discussions by acknowledging the importance of the bilateral relationship between Australia and China, and acknowledging the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and China. We discussed business opportunities and made reference to the free trade agreement negotiations, and expressed strong support for them and the opportunities they will provide.

I spoke about Australia's readiness to host more Chinese investment, and spoke about our relatively open investment policy. I spoke about the 20-fold growth in Chinese investment in Australia in the last five years, and I said we want opportunities to expand investment in China, and Australian business had spoken to me about that, most recently in Shanghai.

I had a lot to speak about when it came defence cooperation, probably a level of cooperation not appreciated by Australians. China conducts Defence Strategic Dialogues with a large number of other countries; China only conducts two Defence Strategic Dialogues with the Chief of Defence Force level, and Australia is one of those two – demonstrating the importance Australia and China place on our defence engagement program. In fact, the 15th Defence Strategic Dialogue will take place in Beijing later this year.

In the meantime, Australia was the first western nation to conduct a practical humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise with the PLA. That was held in Chengdu last October. A second practical humanitarian and disaster relief exercise with the PLA will be held in Australia later this year. And Australia was also, I believe, the first western nation to hold a joint live fire exercise with the PLA Navy in 2010. The HMAS Ballarat will conduct a port visit to Shanghai to mark the 40th anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations, and it will feature a banner celebrating those relations while it is moored in Shanghai.

I had the opportunity to talk about the Australian relationship with the United States, and while the US Marine presence in northern Australia wasn't specifically raised with me, a number of my Chinese interlocutors did raise with me Australia's enhanced defence cooperation with the United States. I explained that Australia had an instinct for a security relationship with America that goes back a 100 years. It was, in 1905, the Japanese victory over Russia in the naval war between Russia and Japan that sparked interest in Australia in engaging America in the Pacific.

Since that time, Australia has wanted to see America play a role in the Asia-Pacific. You could say it's deep in Australia's DNA. And we argue, as Australians, that America's role in the Pacific has helped underpin peace and stability in the region, and that has contributed to the economic development of the region, including that of China. From time to time there has been, from Chinese sources, an acknowledgement of this reality.

There's nothing new, moreover, about foreign forces training in Australia. Australia has long hosted training for the US, Singapore, and others. Indeed, there've been 14 000 US troops training in Australia only a year ago, with 8500 Australian troops. So, by comparison, the presence of 2500 Marines on a rotating basis – not a base – but a rotating presence, for training and exercises, is not a major stretch of those longstanding Australian defence ties with the United States.

We spoke about the next G20 meeting and about our common interest in having members of the G20 commit themselves to economic growth, and that followed a discussion about the seeming fragility of the economic and political situation in much of Europe. And in that we were as one in wanting to see the G20 commit itself as a forum to policies of sustainable growth.

We made mention of the Human Rights Dialogue, indeed the Chinese side raised that before I had an opportunity to do so. Both sides are committed to seeing that that dialogue functions as an opportunity of pursuing interest in human rights on a continuing and a detailed basis.

I raised three consular cases, I don't want to press the details of them, or of the Chinese response, because I think they're more easily resolved without training a spotlight on them. But I did raise them.

Both sides want a high-quality free trade agreement that will benefit both countries and would be a beneficial outcome for the 40th anniversary.

We want, in particular, an open and transparent regulatory framework for foreign investment. We welcome investment from China; we want to see more opportunities for Australian investment in China. Bear in mind the figures that I quoted in Shanghai – some of you were present – but since November 2007, the Government has approved around 380 proposals for Chinese investment in Australia. None has been rejected, and indeed the stock of Chinese investment has increased more than 20-fold in the past five years. We want to see more growth in Australian investment in China, and Australian business in Shanghai raised with me the desirability of fewer restrictions on that investment. I've been reading the Five Year Plan, and I believe China can achieve some of those objectives through more Australian investment in in China.

We discussed the work of the East Asia Summit, and agreed that it's important to maintain momentum in 2012, including progress in the priority areas of energy, finance, disaster management, education and pandemic diseases.

In each of the forums today, I raised, or my Chinese partner raised, the issue of North Korean nuclear tests, North Korea missiles, and the prospect of a third nuclear test by North Korea.

I think that might open it up. In the spirit of these things, I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account, and it's in the nature of these discussions that one doesn't provide a running commentary, but with that introduction, I'm very happy to invite your questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can you just give us a bit more of an idea about, you say they the issues with the US-Australian defence relationship? What were they, could you call them concerns, or were they…?

BOB CARR: I think the most objective way of saying it is that my three Chinese partners today invited me to talk about enhanced Australian defence cooperation with the United States. My response was the put it in the terms I just used – Australia has got a cornerstone treaty with the United States, support for it runs very deep in Australian history. Indeed, in two of the meetings today, I drew an analogy with how history explains, is said to explain, aspects of China's strategic view of the world, and foreign policy. We know that one interpretation of Chinese history posits that China has not been an expansionary power. With an opportunity to plant colonies as a result of the great maritime expeditions of the Ming Dynasty, China declined that opportunity. China has not been, in the European sense, a colonial or expansionist power.

But just as China's notions of its strategic role are planted deep in its history, so is Australia's view of the world. And Australia, going back a hundred years, has wanted a security relationship with the United States. And that ran very strongly throughout the 1930s as Australia witnessed Japan's expansion, and it was manifest in the early '50s when Australia settled on the ANZUS Treaty with the United States. Recent developments, like the rotating Marine presence in the Northern Territory, are a reflection, a growth, a maturation, of that Treaty relationship.

JOURNALIST: What was the Chinese response, given that all three of them raised it, what was the response from each of them on your comments?

BOB CARR: I don't want to have to attempt to summarise what they said. What I said was received, was acknowledged, by each of my Chinese partners in these three discussions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, in the context of those discussions on security issues, did the South China Sea issue come up as well? What did you tell the Chinese side about that issue, what did they tell you?

And also, second question, in the process of your talking about Australia's welcoming Chinese investment, did the Chinese side raise questions about the Australian Government's decision on Huawei being excluded from taking part in the tenders on the broadband project?

BOB CARR: The Chinese raised what they described as restrictions on investment in Australia, and I nominated Huawei as seeming to be the case in point, and explained that this was a decision made on security grounds, reflecting a focus by Australia on the resilience and security of core infrastructure. That is our position. I also said that, if it were regarded as disadvantageous to Huawei, then it wasn't our decision to publicise the matter. But I ended my explanation on a very positive note, and that is that Chinese investment in Australia has grown markedly; you've got a 20-fold increase in Chinese investment in Australia in the last five years. You've got 380 investment proposals approved, and none rejected. You've got some mighty examples of Chinese investment in the energy sector; I won't go into those details again unless you want me to. And in that context, Huawei has got every opportunity to expand and develop in Australia, as I'm sure their ingenuity and their outstanding technical competence will enable them to do so.

JOURNALIST: Minister, I'm interested in your, I think it was your first speech in Parliament, you talked about sending the Ambassador to investigate the situation in Tibet. Could you just explain to us why you chose that word "investigate", and whether maybe down the track now you've had more time in your role, whether you would have chosen a different word?

BOB CARR: Correction, it wasn't in my first speech in Parliament, it was an answer to a question in the Parliament. And as you know, whether it's believed or not, Ministers have got to be painstakingly accurate because you can't mislead Parliament.

And all I'd do is restate now the Australian position. And by the way, in the discussions, I simply made reference to the fact our position on Tibet is the same – that was the first point I made – the same as it's been under previous Australian Governments since 1972. And made reference to the fact that the Human Rights Dialogue is an opportunity for us to touch on Tibet and other issues.

I spoke in Shanghai on Saturday about the record of representations that have been made by our Ambassador here, to afford her the opportunity of going to Tibet and meeting people and inspecting Australian aid projects.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, for those who weren't there, can you just tell us what the update is on that? Have they said no, or have we got any idea when that might happen?

BOB CARR: We'll give you the date at which the request for the meeting was made.

JOURNALIST: But I mean, sorry, so the Chinese haven't given her a date, or anything?

BOB CARR: No, we're waiting for a response. I think, in line with previous practice, previous requests for a meeting. The delay in the response is not particularly noteworthy.

JOURNALIST: So for those of us who weren't around in '72, what is our position on Tibet?

BOB CARR: It's what it's always been, that Australia recognises the sovereignty of China.

JOURNALIST: Did you raise that issue again today, did you follow up your request first made in March and also in April?

BOB CARR: I think the first reference to Tibet was made by one of my Chinese partners in the discussions, and I responded by saying what our position was, and about the appropriateness of the Human Rights Dialogue as a way for touching on issues of concern in Tibet.

JOURNALIST: Could I ask you about, there was recently a case involving Charlotte Chou, another Chinese-Australian who seems to have got in trouble with the law here and also been given a jail term. Is there something of a pattern here, that Australian-Chinese business people should be wary when doing business here? And do you think the courts come down particularly hard on them because they're Chinese Australians, as opposed to Anglo-Australians, or something like that?

BOB CARR: I think, more particularly, the point to be underlined is that China does not recognise dual nationality. Our long-standing position is to seek more transparency in judicial processes in China. We think that's in the interests of more Australian business people coming here and working in China, like those I met last night here in Beijing, or those I met on Saturday in Shanghai.

The Government is very mindful that these cases are being watched by the Australian business community, and they are capable of affecting perceptions of the commercial environment in China. Of course, it's an obvious point that China has sovereignty in business jurisdictions on Chinese soil.

Australian consular officials, I should point out, have attended court hearings in the three cases that are probably in the back of your minds, provided high levels of support to these Australians and their families.

JOURNALIST: What did you mean by the dual citizenship point? Was that that Charlotte Chou had entered China on a Chinese passport rather than her Australian passport?

BOB CARR: I don't know the details of each of these cases. If I did, I'd hesitate to pick over them. I think we're easier to get a satisfactory outcome on behalf of the families and businesses concerned if I simply report to you that I've raised these cases.

JOURNALIST: But what did you mean by that point, about dual citizenship?

BOB CARR: I'm just repeating what I was told today by one of my Chinese interlocutors, and that is that China does not recognise dual citizenship.

JOURNALIST: So for their purposes, they're Chinese nationals, not Australian nationals, and thereby don't have … ?

BOB CARR: I guess that's right.

JOURNALIST: Minister, if I could go back to that question about the South China Sea did the recent tensions come up during discussions…?

BOB CARR: Yes it did, and the Chinese Foreign Minister took the opportunity of expressing vigorously the Chinese position on the South China Sea. I pointed out that Australia simply doesn't take a position on the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, but we urge all parties to clarify and pursue those claims, and accompanying maritime rights, in accordance with international law.

I stand by the Australian position that we've got an interest in a region, in navigation rights, and a region through which, according to one estimate, 60 per cent of our trade passes.

JOURNALIST: You say that the three Chinese partners you met today received and acknowledged your explanation of the US military presence in Darwin? Did they give any indication…?

BOB CARR: Well, no, just be careful, in each case they raised the issue of Australia's increased defence ties with the United States, and I took an opportunity to put them in the historic context, explained why they were effectively a cornerstone of Australian foreign policy.

JOURNALIST: And did they give any indication that this might be a time for them to evolve or indeed change, given the relationship with China?

BOB CARR: I think their view can be expressed as, in the words of one of the three I spoke to, I'm sure it was the Foreign Minister, that the time for "Cold War alliances" has long since passed. Australia's view, of course, is that the American presence in the Asia-Pacific has helped underpin stability there, and created a climate in which the peaceful economic development of the whole region, including that of China, has been able to occur. That's our view.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] greater military cooperation between Australia and China, just ask if you could give us some examples of how that could be achieved?

BOB CARR: I think it can be said that, underpinning my conversation with the PLA, was a view that our defence cooperation has been very good and we would both like to see more of it.

I think defence cooperation is a confidence-building measure: the more we understand about one another's approach to defence, the less likely we are to misinterpret what the other side does. I think it obviously gives a message of reassurance to our Chinese friends, because, bear in mind they only have two Defence Strategic Dialogues that involve the Chief of Defence Force, and one of them is with Australia.

JOURNALIST: Just a couple of questions on that. So are you saying that the Chinese see the US presence in the Asia-Pacific as a remnant of the Cold War, and it probably shouldn't be here [inaudible]?

BOB CARR: Hold on, I'm not putting words in the mouths of my Chinese interlocutors. But one or two of my partners in the talks today made the point that they saw defence relationships that involved treaties as being legacies of the Cold War. I'm simply saying we Australians have a different view.

JOURNALIST: Who made that comment, was it … ?

BOB CARR: I'd have to go through my notes to see that.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about tomorrow, the meeting with Li Keqiang? Is there anything particular that will be on the agenda for that that you can tell us about?

BOB CARR: I think the starting point will be the importance of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations, I think that will be the starting point, and of looking at how the relationship might grow beyond where it is today. It'll be an opportunity to talk about the free trade agreement as well, I'm sure.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the Chinese seeing treaties as a Cold War remnant, was there any sort of explanation of their view of what things should look like instead? Should the region be a region without treaties?

BOB CARR: No, you're really asking me to interpret….I didn't get a clear picture of that. I'm accurate insofar as I went in sketching a view they held.

Thank you very much. Just a point the Ambassador has provided me with: the Chinese Government does not recognise dual nationality, but where Chinese citizens have renounced their Chinese nationality, and have entered China on Australian passports, we can gain consular access to them under our bilateral Consular Agreement.

Thank you very much.


Media enquiries